I have a fascination for French stuff such as wine, food and culture. I’ve been in France many times, both professionally and privately. I speak French, albeit on a very basic level and I find many parts of their history and culture fascinating. A leading figure in my watch community remarked that he thought Yema watches were underpriced. Today I realize this comment wasn’t quite unbiased, but I remember that as a strong credential when I started exploring this French brand.
I had already gotten my eyes on the Yema Superman, which at that time also came in a limited-edition version called Lagoon. My fascination for the watch came from three aspects. In addition to the awesome watch, I really liked its heritage and finally the French connection. And, of course, its name!
At the same time, some of the most peculiar and arrogant people I’ve met were French. I’ve also witnessed how the French culture impacts how French companies do product development and engineering; both first-hand but also through my brother who used to work there. For me, some of the conclusions I will get to in this post have a clear connection to this.
Yema – French heritage
Yema is a name associated with French watchmaking and was founded by Henry Louis Belmont back in 1946. In 1963, the Yema Superman was launched; with its original arrow and shovel hands, and bezel lock-down spacer as key design features.
Chosen by the French Air Force for its pilots, the watch became a legend in the 1970s. This is a nice example of a tool watch that serves its purpose so well that it became adapted by a completely different use.
When I decided to pull the trigger on the Yema Superman Lagoon, it had been dropped from about 600 EUR to 400 EUR. For me it was a pleasant surprise, but also a very strange move for a limited-edition watch. The only reasonable explanation would have had to be that there was another limited-edition coming up and they didn’t want to run them simultaneously. This appeared not to be the case. For me, I was just happy that I saved 200 EUR!
The first impression when getting a new watch is its box. In this case, the box is a very simple and quite small red box with a thin and boring interior. I totally get that this is not a high-end piece (especially considering its price level), but the box is typically an area where most watch makers – also in the lower ranges – try to make an impression without spending too much money. Yema, it seems, want to make a statement of the opposite. Maybe this is the way the boxes have been looking for decades? If so, that makes sense. Still, not even the documentation fits in the box and comes separately instead. Not surprising when thinking about this being a French watch.
Where most independent watch makers try to find their key features outside the movement, Yema has gone the other way and now runs their own movements. I assume this has a positive strike in their domestic market, but for customers in other markets this may become a bit of an issue when the watch needs servicing. Of course, most skilled watch makers should be well qualified to service the Yema movement, but they still need to be able to source parts. Considering that Yema doesn’t have a wide AD network, this is a small but not irrelevant issue.
The movement itself the in-house, Ambre MBP 1000 movement with a bi-directional rotor, 45 hours of power reserve, 31 jewels and 28 800 vibrations per hour.
Case, crown and glass
The case is a slim, polished stainless-steel case with a very circular appearance. The case follows the bezel, which is free moving and locked in place by means of a small spacer fitted inside the screw-down crown, like the one used on the secondary crown of the Glycine Airman. This is one of the key design features of the Superman, although it doesn’t feature on all models.
The case polished and has a diameter of 40mm. The lug to lug is about 48mm and hence the watch wears well for most with an average sized wrist. The case back is solid, with a nice embossed Yema logo on a matte background. The logo is surrounded by some ornaments that make it look quite nice. Around the logo, the usual text is printed, fittingly in French: “Fabrique en France”, “Tout acier” (all steel), “Etanch a 30 bar” and “Superman”. Something unusual is the CE-marking as part of this text. I have not seen that on any other mechanical watch. The case thickness is 13mm and makes the watch appear symmetric.
The Superman Lagoon has a flat sapphire crystal glass, in contrast to the Superman Heritage whose glass is domed. It’s perfectly aligned with the bezel and the risk of unwanted nicks or scratches is thereby reduced significantly.
Dial and hands
The Yema Superman Lagoon differs from the “regular” Superman heritage in several ways. The Lagoon’s clear, stunning, azure blue sunburst dial (and its name) is an homage to the experience of the French Air Force pilots when flying to pacific atolls. Truth to be told, the dial was half the reason for why I got this piece in the first hand. Being borderline turquoise, it really is a stunner!
All indexes are identical; polished and with a green luminescent strip centrally. Between the indexes are two (2) markers that correspond to minutes 2 and 3, 7 and 8, and so on. Looking at a vertical line, starting from 12 o’clock and downwards, the first print is the Yema “Y”-logo, followed by “Yema” and then “Superman” in a small, delicate font. Between the center and 6 o’clock, it says 990 feet (corresponding to 300m) and “Automatic”. Beneath the 6 o’clock marker, “France” is written delicately.
The hands are the other tell-tale of Yema. The seconds hand features the classic Yema shovel hand. At the base is a beautiful red dot, that amplifies the impression. The minute hand, emphasized as it should for diver watches, has the classical Yema arrow design and has three different sections of luminescence. The arrow hand is a simple sword hand with a thin base.
Between the center and 3 o’clock is a convenient date window. The black digits on white background are in a font that is similar to Times New Roman and doesn’t match well with the font of the dial which is sans serif. This is one of the first clues of a design that isn’t completely thought-through.
If you have read any of my other reviews, you’d know that I’m not a great fan of arrow hands. That goes for the Yema Superman also, although if I’d chose one arrow hand over another, it would be the one from Yema. All in all, the classic design of the dial and hands make this a watch that really feels special to wear.
As mentioned before, the bezel is locked with a spacer. Unlike the Glycine Airman, the bezel is not free moving, but unidirectional with 60 clicks. Although similar in appearance, the bezel is a standard inlay and not sapphire as in the Superman Heritage models. One of the striking features is that nothing on the bezel glows in dark. Not even the 12 o’clock marker on the bezel is luminescent! This is highly unusual for any diver watch – modern or classic. The other thing to note – and I’ve seen this on several Superman Lagoon models – is that it’s not perfectly aligned with the indexes. I don’t find this acceptable on any watch, regardless of its price level.
The Superman Lagoon came with two options of leather straps, one black and one brown, with the option of a stainless-steel bracelet. The strap is perforated, just like racing straps, perhaps an homage to Yema’s origins. If you are a fan of versatility, with some imagination you check diving, pilot and racing in one watch. The strap quality I’d rate as average. Personally, I’m not a fan of leather straps and didn’t really like this combination. I’d wear the Superman on a Nato strap and I’m sure it would match perfectly with a fine mesh band.
Wearing the Superman Lagoon
The Yema Superman Lagoon is a very safe watch to wear. The 40mm diameter / 13mm thickness makes it wear well inside a cuff. It has a very shiny appearance, which together with its vintage look, makes it feel quite classy. The azure blue dial, however, doesn’t match well with purple or other reddish blue colors. Anything else, however, makes the watch stand out.
The Yema Superman Lagoon, for me, is a very versatile everyday watch and works excellent in a business casual style. Given its water resistance, there are no worries if you end up in the pond. As usual, with polished watches, scratches and hairlines become much more apparent. For me, the Superman Lagoon was used primarily for desk diving in the office, and sometimes leisurely. If you’re into larger watches, the 40mm might feel tiny.
Price, buying and options
The Superman Lagoon was issued as a limited edition in 2017 and sold out by end of 2019. Its list price was just below 600 EUR, which is just below the mid-range. One might think that it’s an incredibly low price for a watch like this, which was what I thought first. However, I’ll revert to this in the conclusion section by the end of this review.
I’ve selected three options:
- Yema Superman Heritage
- Squale 1521
- Seiko SBP149J1 or SLA043J1
Unusually enough, my first option is another Yema. The reason being two-fold. First, the Lagoon model is not available any longer (although they appear every now and then on the secondhand market). Second, the Superman Heritage is both comparable but also quite different to the Lagoon. The Heritage model comes in two sizes (39 and 41mm) which is good if you don’t prefer 40mm. In contrast to Lagoon, Heritage has a Selitta SW220-1 movement. It also has the nice sapphire glass bezel and finally the domed glass. It’s quite pricey though, listed at 1199 EUR.
The other option, which is closer to but still above the Lagoon’s price range, is the Squale 1521. Also a stunning sunburst disk, it features the Selitta 200-1 movement and is slightly larger at 42mm. The 1521 has a more traditional diver appearance, including a luminescent 12 o’clock pip on the bezel. The light blue sunburst is less green or turquoise than the Lagoon.
If you’re into heritage and limited editions, perhaps the Seiko SLA043 (limited to 1700 pieces) or the already famous SBP149 may be interesting. Also featuring blue dials, classic design and 40-41mm diameter, they are good options. The price level is, however, quite higher, 1499 USD for the SBP149 and 4500 USD for the SLA043!
I owned my Superman Lagoon for slightly less than a year and I was very hesitant about letting it go. For good reasons. I got the watch because I love the “off mainstream”. Outside the watch community, just like most other brands, few people know about Yema. I really like the heritage of the Yema Superman; the story about pilots swearing to a dive watch. The French connection was another plus, and then I really, really like the sunburst dial.
There are a few things I don’t like. First, the lack of a luminescent marker on the bezel is inadequate for a diver in my book. The misalignment of the bezel and the font choice of the date wheel are other peculiarities. The poor quality of the watch band is another let-down. The final peculiarity is the movement. I understand that it has a strong appeal to the domestic market to have an in-house movement. During my year of owning the watch, I had no complaints on the movement. However, servicing it will be a headache and this was perhaps what made me finally to land on my decision to sell the watch. It is also a strong statement from Yema that they equip the more expensive model with a Selitta movement – should this be understood such that their in-house movement is inferior?
Yema’s marketing strategy waters down the brand’s image by constantly running campaigns and discounts. Instead of building up an image as a solid watch maker with long tradition, Yema showcases itself like any bread-and-butter microbrand.
What lead up to that decision was, as with most of the watches I decide to let go, that it got too little watch time. My fascination and love of the watch would not justify keeping it while not being worn. I love wearing NATO straps during summer, but having no good options once the autumn came, the Superman Lagoon stayed in the box most of the time. I landed on that a mesh bracelet would be a perfect match, but having gotten a good offer for the watch, I decided to let it go.
A final word on the price. I thought this was a good deal – and still do. Especially after the heavy discount. However, there negatives mentioned above, makes this watch appear as some sort of compromise. If you are into French products, for good and bad, you won’t be disappointed.
After all, going over all aspects that I do when I rate a watch, it ends up on a disappointing score of 5.5 – rotation.